JEAN CHAREST

JEAN CHAREST’S RAPIDLY-APPROACHING ‘BEST BEFORE’ DATE.

Let’s face it. Politicians are like so many cans of baked beans on the grocery store shelf. They’ve all got a certain shelf life, with a more or less pre-ordained ‘best before’ date stamped on them somewhere, after which time no John or Jane Q. Public will buy them any more on election day.

They’re like brand-name products, and they and their image makers know it, and try and squeeze as many ‘sales’ out of their cans of beans as they possibly can, before they go stale, and won’t make anybody toot, electorally-speaking that is.

Such is the case with Jean Charest. Our beloved Premier is now just over a year into his third term as leader of our distinct provincial ‘Nation’, and he’s starting to feel the heat. First elected to provincial politics in 2003, you’ll recall, Mr. Charest was skilfully poached away from the loyal and devoted arms of Elsie Wayne of the now late and lamented Progressive Conservative Party in 1998.

In the wake of the sudden near-death experience of the 1995 Québec vote on secession, a pragmatic group of Conservative and Liberal businessmen from Montréal had sat Mr. Charest down in a restaurant somewhere in Montréal, and basically pleaded with him to make the jump to provincial politics so as to defend the federalist, pro-business option in Québec.

These people had reason to be worried. They had come within a hair of potentially losing large sums of money and property in the eventuality of a secessionist victory in the 1995 vote. The potential for the flight of capital from the Montréal area to what would be left of Canada would’ve been tremendous, and the potential for disruptions in the timely delivery of goods, services, information, and the free circulation of people and capital could’ve been of potentially byzantine proportions.

They needed a good guy on their side, with the smarts, a high level of bilingualism, ideally a lawyer, with good brand-name recognisability and marketability with both French and English speakers in the province, to mind the store for them and keep the separatists from having another kick at the can.

So Jean Charest came onto the scene, after having cut his teeth as a federal PC MP and cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney’s 1984 and 1988 governments. After the post Meech Lake and Charlottetown Accord electoral annihilation of 1993, which saw Kim Campbell, the sacrificial lamb, take one for the team, so as to save King Brian the humiliation of being wiped off the face of the earth, Mr. Charest found himself alone in Ottawa with the afore-mentioned Mrs. Wayne, holding down the once-mighty PC fortress.

Which is one of the reasons why he was eventually recruited for his new job in Québec city: His career was going nowhere in Ottawa, and his talents as a Québec federalist politician were much needed elsewhere. Which brings me back to where I started: Mr. Charest now seems to have come full circle. And speaking of circles, he seems to be increasingly having to circle the wagons so as to fend off an ever growing onslaught of scandals which just don’t want to go away.

This is a worrisome phenomenon for one good and big reason: The Liberal Party of Québec being the only viable pro-business, and pro-Canadian party in our province, it stands to reason that, if it becomes so embroiled in corruption-based scandals, the kinds of which it is faced with now, (and which, by the way, eerily resemble the same kinds of scandals the Bourassa regime faced in the lead up to its demise, thereby paving the way for the first PQ government, and a referendum on secession), it may very well suffer the same fate as the Bourassa regime before it. Plagued by scandal, the PQ will manage to go up in the opinion polls by promising to cleanup government while soft-pedaling the secession question so as to not scare too many undecided types. Then they get elected again, and BAM!!! We get shafted with another referendum vote on secession, this time with no clear-cut leader to champion the pro-Canadian cause.

Sound like a doomsday scenario? It may just turn out to be the case if Mr. Charest doesn’t do something more concrete about rooting out corruption in his Party and his government. He may have to step aside and let someone like Yves Bolduc or Philippe Couillard take over if he wants to have a chance at keeping his party in power beyond the end of his current mandate, if he even makes it that far.

Whatever the case, all I know is that there’s a can of beans that’s been sitting on the political shelf now for over twenty five years. I think it’s starting to get dusty on the outside, and maybe even a little rotten on the inside. Don’t you think we should take it off the shelf pretty soon and throw it out before it falls onto the floor, breaks open, and spills all those stinky beans all over the place?

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